This year’s California Public Information Officers conference shined a light on how important online public engagement has become. About 100 people convened in Palm Springs for 3 days to share ideas and learn new ways to keep their community engaged and informed. Granicus was lucky to be able to connect with so many amazing and inspiring PIO’s! I wanted to share a few of the top tips we gathered.
Taking an innovative approach
Innovation was a common theme at this year’s conference. Regardless of the size of the organization or budget, forward-thinking and innovative public outreach and collaboration approaches are working!
For instance, I learned that the City of Santa Rosa has a dedicated Community Engagement Coordinator, Georgia Pedgrift, who is doing some fun things to make city government more personal, responsive, and engaging. Check out their community engagement website and get some ideas. I particularly enjoyed the video she produced, the clever “Be My Neighbor” theme (a play on Mr. Rogers), and I love how easy it is for residents to learn how they can get involved in their community! I was also very impressed by the work of Heather Morris and her team at the Port of Long Beach, who webcast their regular “Pulse of the Port” news update show demonstrate what they are doing to help the community. Check out their videos.
Next generation tools to build public influence
The future of public participation online was another innovative topic being discussed at CAPIO. Granicus hosted a session called “Citizensourcing: Introducing the Next Generation of Civic Engagement” where we gave a firsthand look at how crowdsourcing and other Web 2.0 technologies, such as text polling and web-based participation in public meetings, are transforming civic engagement online. Granicus' new CivicIdeas product provides a comprehensive way to achieve all these goals through a single solution.
Check out this video snapshot of Tom Spengler, CEO and Co-Founder of Granicus, at CAPIO – he's discussing the fundamentals of citizensourcing and how it can help governments achieve better outcomes by incorporating public input into the decision-making process:
Increasing the level of public impact in 5 simple steps
Regardless of the innovative approaches and technologies you are using to engage the public, setting expectations is critical. The session, “Expectations for Public Participation – How to Bridge the Gap,” addressed this issue. One of the speakers on the panel, Lewis Michaelson, vice president & managing director, Katz & Assoc., said it best, “the real currency of public participation isn’t process; it’s influence.”
In an American democracy, it is expected, regardless of technical limitations, that the public be involved in decisions that directly affect them. Without public support, plans become subject to singular criticism and can be stopped in their tracks for sometimes preposterous reasons. Public support makes the public part of the decision and thus less susceptible to derision.
Here are some important steps covered during this session that opened my eyes to the various stages of public participation and public influence:
InformProvide the public with balanced and objective information on problems, alternatives, and solutions. This is done through websites, factsheets, open houses, etc.
ConsultGather public feedback on ideas, plans, and analyses. This has been traditionally achieved through public meetings, surveys, and focus groups, but there is a new rise in collecting this data online. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why PIO's are starting to adopt Granicus CivicIdeas, to consult the public on what projects and initaitives they should pursue - it uses crowdsourcing or "citizensroucing" to identify the top community priorities.
InvolveWork directly with the public throughout the entire process to ensure that their needs, desires, and aspirations are consistently understood and considered. This can be done through workshops, deliberative polling, and again, through online public engagement systems. Like I mentioned above, text polling and online commenting systems can be designed to directly involve citizens in the public process (like the Granicus Citizen Participation Suite) are becoming increasingly popular in the government space.
CollaboratePartner with the public in each aspect of the decision, including the development of alternatives, as well as identifying the overall preferred solution. This can be done through consensus building, citizen advisory committees, and both traditional and nextgen participatory planning.
EmpowerPlace the final decision making in the hands of the public! This is about as win-win as it gets for all the obvious reasons. This is done through citizen ballots, citizen juries, and delegated decision making.
For the public, it’s always about the outcome. If the public is involved early and had influence on the process, the participants get a sense of achievement and ownership.
Public engagement, while it seems a lessening of leadership, is in fact, the exact opposite. Public engagement is what this country was built on and it is what the citizens demand. Keeping sight of that is succeeding as a PIO.
If you did not have a chance to see how Granicus is helping governments achieve productive public enagement, influence, and impact through the web, complete this form for a free demo!